ST. JOHNS COUNTY, Fla. -- A fish with a big name appears to be making a comeback in Florida's waters.
Goliath grouper can weigh up to 800 pounds, and the "gee whiz" factor is huge. The giants were nearly fished to extinction, but the question is: is there enough of the fish to stop the current harvesting ban? The answer depends who you ask.
This weekend, Joe Kistel of Jacksonville was diving 12 miles off Ponte Vedra Beach, and he said, "I ended up coming face to face with a roughly 6 – 7 foot Goliath grouper, 200-300 pounds."
He shot video of the big fella on an artificial reef.
"You look off to the right, and you see this big face staring at you! At first it makes you kind of gulp a little bit, but they don't bother you. It's a neat thing to see," Kistel smiled.
Divers and fisherman in north Florida say in recent years, they're encountering more Goliath grouper.
Juveniles weighing less than 20 pounds have been caught in the rivers as well.
Decades ago, fishermen all over Florida caught Goliath grouper as big as 800 pounds. However, people caught so many of them, the giants nearly became extinct.
So in 1990 Goliath grouper became a protected species, and any of the fish that were caught had to be thrown back. Now the result is, "in southwest Florida, these fish are everywhere," Kistel explained. "They're very common, to the point people think they're almost a nuisance."
However, a 2011 study suggest there are far fewer goliath grouper in northeast Florida than there are in southwest Florida.
Still, some First Coast fishermen say the protected big eaters could eventually impact their bottom line.
Captain Kevin Faver has a charter fishing business. He said, "If they keep coming back the way they're coming back, it is going to start affecting offshore fishing."
However, Kistel of TISIRI, an artificial reef advocacy group, says while the numbers may be slowly increasing, Goliath grouper need to remain a protected species. He says the harvesting ban is still needed.
"The amount of numbers that are there could diminish very quickly if the ban was released, back to near extinct numbers really quick," Kistel noted.